He’s dying, Unkha.
The words fly through my mind; the locusts of angst ravaging the field of my objective. An unending darkness from the cave below leaves no distraction from the thought. He’s dying. I cling onto the rope tied around my waist. The threads lightly unravel. It creaks against the edge of the abyss’ mouth.
My foot slips and a loose stone detaches from the muddy wall. It plods in its descent until there is only the creaking left. Is there ever a bottom? My left-hand feels a handle from the slime of the wall that envelopes me. I squeeze it between my fingers and palm. It compresses. I shriek and retract my hand. A fungus. The words swarm into my mind again. He’s dying.
They appeared on his nails first. Green and black with the stench of rot radiating from them. This world is new and we don’t know what dangers await or lurk in the dark. They seem not to care for light. His arm was engulfed within two days. His neck and chest, by the end of the week. They’re killing him.
“In the Mouth of Okloro, passed the back of her throat, is a stomach of salt,” the elderly sage of this realm advised when she saw the white and green bundles of fungus against the brown of Trines’ arm, “the salt will kill the clouds.” She was confident of her wisdom and I, desperate. She warned of Okloro’s treachery but her words lacked the accent of terror this dark instills.
The goddess of the earth in their realm, Okloro is known to the locals as the goddess of life and death as well. Their fear is both in awe and fright. The children of the village taunted us with lyrics of certain demise as we walked toward the cave the sage said was Okloro’s eye. I am beginning to believe.
Okloro exhales, the gust of her breath rips me away from her moist throat. The rope creaks and then cracks. Her breath ended but I still feel the wind pushing up against my back. I can’t find the rope. I’m going to die. He’s going to…
A hard mat snaps against my spine, forcing my lungs to give up life. Water swallows me whole. My lips and nostrils burn with a fury I haven’t felt in years. My throat repulses its muscles to evict the brine water. I’m not sinking. My face and hands erupt from under the skin of the thick water. My body itches. I have found it.
A dim blue light draws my eyes and arms to it, to semi-dry land. Millions of small worm-like creatures line the walls with a brilliant cerulean glow. I look back at the void-lake of salt. Did she mean salt? I doubt she knows what salt is as we do. I scoop several of the worms into the pouch attached to my belt. It glows. My eyes steer to the opening I imagine waits for me above. A sigh of despair slides from my dry lips.
“This way,” a whisper calls over the hum of the worms and echoes down the cave. I follow its hope. The words return to plague my anxiety and guide my legs down the narrowing tunnel. He’s dying. A thin ray of white ahead pierces into the black. I hurry, but my feet grow heavier with each step into the soggy ground.
The sun blinds me. The fresh air of vegetation greets my nose with a soft welcome. The sage and a band of children stand over me. They snicker and run away. She smiles and offers her hand. The sage leads me to the hut on the other side of the hill where I left Trines.
They’ve spread again. Half his face is at their mercy. His eyes are closed. His chest rises and falls with effort. My pouch glows brighter and the worms wiggle with veracity. They smell it too. I scoop them out and shake them off onto the fungus. Their glow stops. I hold my breath, praying I made the right call. Please let him live?
The smell is gone.
Author: Anike Kirsten
When Anike Kirsten writes she becomes someone else; someone in a different time, a different place. When she writes, she lives. Anike is as much a reader as she is a South African writer, enjoying various genres and authors, but her heart was stolen by Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question.